Promoting good behaviour – a tipping point

If learners aren’t paying attention they can’t learn. If they are being distracted by others in the class they can’t learn. It follows that for learning to take place then there must be a purposeful and focused environment in the classroom.

I was talking with a couple of colleagues this week about classroom behaviour and how it sits with our commitment to treat all learners with “Unconditional Positive Regard”. From a personal point of view there is nothing more important than classroom behaviour which supports effective learning. I don’t see any conflict between our commitment to unconditional positive regard and tackling bad bahaviour. In fact I think for us to ignore bad behaviour lets all children down – including those who are misbehaving.

There are many factors which play a part in encouraging good behaviour – e.g. an appropriate curriculum; good planning; enthusiastic teaching; appropriate pace of learning; effective assessment; reward systems; clear expectations; consistent application of these expectations in the classroom;  and the consistent application of expectations across a whole school.

It is the last of these points which I think is the most important. I remember when we went through a difficult time with a particular year group at Dunbar Grammar School. The tipping point came at a principal teachers meeting where we agreed to implement a totally consistent approach with this year group regarding our expectations and sanctions. As a senior management team we set out to support the staff in a variety of ways. Part of that was to adopt a zero tolerance approach towards low level classroom disruption – we used the human rights act as a lever with the pupils by explaining that the rights of an individual pupil – who wishes to disrupt a lesson – do not take precedence over the rights the majority who wish to learn.  However, the thing that made the biggest impact was the fact that all members of staff “bought in” to what we were doing – when things are applied consistently across a whole school it does make a real difference.

As a consequence I ended up excluding some pupils for very minor misdemeanors – such as answering back to a teacher. These exclusions were often only for a half day with the pupil returning the next day. The most important thing was the readmission meeting which involved the parents or carers. The result was a significant transformation in pupil behaviour – and the subsequent quality of learning. 

I’ve never been in favour of long term exclusions – they should not be used as punishments. However, we do need to drop our tolerance threshhold regarding low level disruption – there’s a really interesting section in Malcolm Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point” where he described how New York tackled violence in their subway by adopting a zero tolerance approach – the effects were remarkable.


4 thoughts on “Promoting good behaviour – a tipping point

  1. Don
    An interesting post. I think that there is often a difficulty in achieving the required consistency among a large and diverse teaching staff.

  2. I can’t agree with you more. I believe the consistent approach to this is the one which will make the difference.

    My PT has used these three words which I think emphasise this further

    “Consistent, Insistent and persistent”.

    While this can work well in an individual classroom, if applied at whole school level it can be much more powerful.

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  4. A Very Happy New Year to you.

    I have been reading your blogs and clearly see your interest in the holistic approach to management. Gladwell’s, “The Tipping Point” to which you refer to is undoubtedly an excellent book about ideas spreading through generations.

    I am a parent who wholeheartedly agrees with your second sentence; “If pupils are being distracted by others in the class they can’t learn”. All pupils, as stakeholders in the educational system have a right to be taught without disruption, harassment and bullying. Equally, teachers must be allowed to teach and not spend their careers as quasi-social workers.

    The Dunbar Grammar School scenario seems to show management as “reactive” instead of “proactive”. You mention limited phased exclusion as a possible approach; this however seems more a short-term approach than a long-term solution. The Broken Window theory propounded by Wilson and Keeling argues that crime is the inevitable result of disorder. If a window is broken and left un-repaired, people rightly conclude that “no one cares and no one is in charge”.

    Disruptive pupils affect the learning of many able pupils. In addition, these disruptive pupils tend to be school bullies and affect the health and psychological welfare of their peers. These bullies seem to be afforded every facility by East Lothian Education Department to offend and re-offend with impunity. Taking away minor privileges is a depressing indication of “no one cares and no one is in charge” management. The following tragic article is a poignant reflection of the growing mis-management of not dealing with discipline in our schools today.,,1976489,00.html

    From my experience as a parent of a bullied child it is clear that the current Anti-Bullying policy is ineffective; it is limited in scope and not consistently applied. I would like to see a consistent and effective approach to managing all levels of disruptive behaviour and bullying in schools. Children would feel secure in the knowledge that there are clear and enforceable boundaries and penalties, boundaries which would be applied consistently by strong and reliable management. It is time for a zero tolerance approach!

    Parent with Standards

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